Just as no two bodies are created the same, we all have different nutritional needs. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t pillars to strive towards, depending on a woman’s overall health and age.
As your body grows, develops and ages, the nutrients required to fuel it and keep it running also change, which means adjusting your diet and supplements through the decades to maintain optimal health. Of course, in a world of ever-evolving food choices and emerging research, it can be difficult to keep track of it all, but here are the basic nutritional needs that women require by age group.
During puberty and your teens
Girls grow quickly between the ages of 12 and 18, which means it’s important to focus on healthy eating habits and getting enough physical exercise, which will also support your developing brain. As your body grows, you should have about 8 mg of iron per day, but by the age of 14 (or around the time you begin menstruating), that daily recommendation climbs to 15 mg to help replenish lost stores. Teen diets low in iron can result in anemia, and can affect your immune system, overall energy levels, and your ability to learn. Vegetarians should also be taking in almost double that amount of iron, as vegetarian sources are difficult to absorb.
Meanwhile, developing bones require 1,300 mg of calcium, and at this stage the recommended daily intake of Vitamin D, which helps the body absorb that calcium, is 1,000 IU.
During your twenties
Once you enter your twenties, calcium, vitamin D, and iron continue to be important, especially if you’re considering having children. This decade is the last one in which you can help build your bones, so aim for at least 1,000 mg of calcium per day and a continued 1,000 IU of vitamin D.
Aim for about 18 mg of iron daily—27 mg if you’re pregnant—while adding about 400 to 800 mg of DNA-repairing folate. (Folate is especially beneficial prior to and during pregnancy, as it helps fetal development.)
During your thirties
You’ll continue to need foods rich in calcium, folate, and iron once you reach your thirties, but you can also expect to start slowly losing muscle mass (though resistance training and eating more protein can help mitigate this loss). Less muscle means a slower metabolism, so in addition to ensuring you’re getting enough essential nutrients, you may need to reduce calories unless you’re extremely active.
Your thirties are also the prime time to top up your magnesium (found in almonds and leafy greens), which helps generate energy for the body, regulate blood pressure, and maintain strong bones. Daily requirements during this stage of your life will increase to 320 mg.
You should also focus on omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish, flax, and chia seeds) to aid brain health, along with iodine (found in fish and shellfish, eggs, kelp, and yogurt) to help regulate your thyroid hormones. B12is also essential in helping to maintain the nervous system in your thirties.
During your forties
To maintain optimal health in your forties, focus on nutrient-dense, vitamin-rich food choices. These should include foods high in vitamins C and E, along with antioxidants like beta-carotene and selenium, which help fight free radicals associated with chronic disease and aging. Berries, leafy greens, nuts, and beans are good choices.
You should continue aiming for 1,000 IU of daily vitamin D, 18 mg of iron, and 1,000 mg of calcium, while incorporating 320 mg of magnesium into your diet to reduce the risk of heart disease and type-2 diabetes.
During your fifties
The average age of menopause in Canada is 51, and with menopause comes a rapid loss of bone density. To keep your bones healthy, you’ll need to increase your calcium consumption to 1,200 mg per day, and eat foods high in vitamin D to aid in calcium absorption.
It also becomes increasingly difficult for your body to absorb B12 at this age, so fortified foods or a supplement will help alleviate this deficiency. Finally, you may need to drink extra water to help your kidneys filter toxins from your bloodstream.
During your sixties and beyond
By the time you reach your sixties, in addition to increased bone loss and reduced caloric needs, your body becomes less efficient at converting sunlight into natural vitamin D. That means you’ll need to increase your consumption of this essential bone-health vitamin through food sources or a supplement. Aim for 1,000 IU a day—or, if your doctor suggests it, as much as 2,000 IU—to maintain sufficient stores.